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Chat: Nate Silver

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Welcome to Baseball Prospectus' Wednesday July 12, 2006 4:00 PM ET chat session with Nate Silver.

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Nate Silver is an author of Baseball Prospectus.

Nate Silver: Hello everybody, and welcome to the Worst Sports Day of the Year.

IN23 (Baltimore): What are you thoughts about the Aubrey Huff to Houston trade? Did the D-Rays get a good return?

Nate Silver: I think they could have done better. There are SO many teams that are nominal contenders this year that a player like Huff could be subject to a bidding war of sorts. Don't see why they were so eager to fire their guns here.

BobbyRoberto (Bothell, WA): At mid-season, Freddy Sanchez is blowing away his 90th percentile forecast. Common sense says he's playing over-his-head so what kind of dropoff should we expect over the 2nd half?

Nate Silver: This is a classic, mid-career, batting average driven spike. I think Sanchez could settle in as being about 80% of Placido Polanco, but I'd rate his chances of stardom as virtually nil.

Vic (Los Angeles): Hi Nate, What kind of production do you expect from Aubrey Huff over the rest of the season in the friendly confines of Houston?

Nate Silver: Less than you'd think. Houston is a BAD park for left-handed hitters, enough to have a very substantive effect on proper acqusition strategy. I know that the Astros needed a bat, but I don't particuarly like this trade from either side of the aisle.

jayne26197 (bay area): Given those feelings on Sanchez, any chance the Pirates might be willing to deal him?

Nate Silver: Most GM's are very bad about selling high on a player that has had a breakout year. When you have the kind of first half that Sanchez has had, the GM is going to be looking for reasons to credit his player development people. It would be a really clutch move for the Pirates to move Sanchez, but I'd give 4:1 odds against it happening.

jm010e ((NY, NY)): Everyone is talking about how the Red Sox need one more starter...everyone is talking about how the Braves need 'pen help and a MI/#2 hitter in return for Smoltz. Why is nobody positing Craig Hansen and Dustin Pedroia for Smoltz?

Nate Silver: Probably because that would be a bad trade for the Red Sox?

Jose Reyes (in flight): If you were to redo your top 50 most valuable players (for the next 6 years) where would I fit in? Top 10?

Nate Silver: Good question. Reyes just missed the list I put together in the spring. And this was something of a crossroads season for him, the kind of year that would determine if he'd have a Barry Larkin career or a Gary Templeton career. I'd guess that Reyes ends up something like 15th on next year's list, although he could be a bit higher depending on how much of this performance he sustains.

andylarsen (work, Utah): Hi Nate. One thing I was wondering: It seems to me like a certain type of player's minor league stats translate differently to the major leagues than another players stats. For example, Hanley Ramirez blew away what PECOTA said he would get, and his major league stats are better than his minor league stats, untranslated. Other players do the opposite, fizzing away in the majors. Is this anything PECOTA can do, or is it a translation problem? Thanks.

Nate Silver: Andy,

Ramirez' 75th percentile PECOTA was .275/.334/.401, and he's currently hitting .271/.337/.413 in a year in which offense is a little bit up. That seems like a validation of the system to me.

andylarsen (FOX!!!): So, what network would you like see pick up the other League Championship Series that FOX isn't doing? Is there anyway that we can prevent FOX's broadcasts in the future? Or at the very least Tim Mccarver? In general, what are your thoughts on the new TV deal?

Nate Silver: I'd think that MLB should have looked a little bit more closely at what happened to the NHL's ratings when it went with OLN. But, someone like Maury can offer a more qualified opinion.

Possessed Rebel (Detroit): Thoughts on Rich Harden? Will he ever become a Cy Young contender or just another pitcher?

Nate Silver: My hunch is that he'll wind up being Just Another Pitcher. Injury problems don't tend to decelerate with age, and besdies that there are some questions about his command. He might string together a Cy Young caliber season at some point during his career, but I don't see him performing at that level consistently.

jayne26197 (bay area): Francoeur: where does he go from here?

Nate Silver: Another good question. I think it might ultimately have been harmful to Francoeur to have had so much success in his first hundred or so big league plate appearances. There clearly seems to be a learning barrier there, and I doubt that the star treatment helps with that. The most likely scenario is that Francouer settles into a 280/320/500 pattern, and becomes a very overpaid free agent as of 2011 or whenever.

jimbrewersbro (Milwaukee): Would you rather have Prince Fielder or Ryan Howard for the rest of their careers?

Nate Silver: If you're asking who is likely to be the better player over the remaining balance of his career, then it's Fielder by a nose. Or a stomach.

If you're asking who is likely to have the better 5- or 6-year peak, then it's Howard by a long shot.

Jon Papelbon (who knows): If I can be the most dominant reliever in baseball and arguable one of the most valuable players in the league, how many other starters could do the same? Should the Dodgers try converting the hard throwing Brett Tomko to relief.

Nate Silver: This is one of baseball's Hilbert Problems; which sort of pitchers gain a comparative advantage when moving from starting to relief? I don't think it's as simple as taking any Brett Tomko off the shelf and expecting him to morph into Paps or Eric Gagne. Anecdotally, however, it seems like pitchers who have some modicum of command problems, like Papelbon or Bobby Jenks, coupled with one or two out pitches that can retire really tough hitters, tend to do best in the transition.

andylarsen (same place, same time): You're right on the Hanley Ramirez thing. Dang. But it makes me wonder, has there been a retrospective study that looks at what happened in the past vs the PECOTA projections? I assume that this is something that you do in order to optimize the system, but why dont you release those studies? In other words, if you look at the comparables to Hanley Ramirez's of the past, do you see anything that supports your percentile judgements? By the way, whats the record for most questions submitted during a chat that were answered? I'm going for it.

Nate Silver: We've looked at the percentiles as a whole, and found that they do quite a good job. That is, 25% of hitters will in fact meet or exceed their 75th percentile projection, and so forth. Although, that doesn't mean that PECOTA can't be wrong on certain types of players.

PSIllini (Champaign, IL): So is there a decent starter that the Red Sox could get without giving up Pedroia or Hansen? Or one that would be worth giving up either of those guys?

Nate Silver: I might pay that price for Jason Schmidt if I could get another useful player back in the deal.

FanBoy (Cincy): Granderson vs. Kearns?

Nate Silver: I don't think this one is that close. Granderson has the better-rounded offensive skills set, is far more valuable on defense, has a much cleaner injury track record, and is a year younger than Kearns.

MarinerDan (SF, CA): Who do you expect to have the greater overall career, Felix Hernandez or Francisco Liriano? Why?

Nate Silver: It would simply be stubborn not to take Liriano at this point. His raw stuff is perhaps just as impressive as Hernandez', his command is better, he doesn't have the weight issues, and he's in an organization that actually knows how to develop pitching talent.

BobbyRoberto (Bothell, WA): Javier Vazquez, am I crazy to continue to have faith in him becoming a good pitcher again someday?

Nate Silver: He's still a good pitcher now.

Knoblauch's Knastiez (Detroit): Please talk about Matt Cain's future in MLB. Does he have a good comp? Thank you for the chat.

Nate Silver: Cain has lots of good comps in terms of people who came into the league with good stuff and good reputations, but other issues that prevented them from turning the corner as pitchers. Some of these guys, like Denny McLain, ultimately sorted it out, while others like Bobby Witt didn't. And there are more Bobby Witts than Denny McLains.

BB (Boston): Any hope for Beckett?

Nate Silver: The dude has 11 wins by the All-Star break! What's the problem? ;-)

This performance really isn't too terribly out of line for Beckett. He's given up a lot of home runs, some of which is probably bad luck, but most of which could be expected based on moving to a MUCH tougher league and a much smaller ballpark. He amounts to a good #3 starter, and that isn't a terrible thing.

natjenki (Cincinnati, OH): Rickie Weeks has made a single error over the past month while improving his range/footwork. Still convinced he needs to move? And if so, what's plan B? Bill Hall ain't no 2nd baseman...

Nate Silver: Even if his defense has been somewhat better lately, Weeks' error rate at second base has been so many standard deviations above the mean that I don't see why Milwaukee has been so intent on fighting the uphill battle and keeping him at that position. His defense metrics have NEVER been good at any level, and his footwork at the position is so poor that even a non-scout like me can detect the problem. Is Hall likely to be any better? I don't know, but he isn't going to be any worse, and all else being equal I think moving Weeks is going to be best for his long-term development.

jeff2sf (philadelphia): Nate, I must admit I'm a bit puzzled by Bobby Abreu's aging pattern. His obp is at an all time high with no boost in average and yet his HR power seems to have vanished. His SBs and SB rate seem pretty good. How does this bode for his next few years? And can you give me a historical comp that aged this way?

Nate Silver: Jeff,

This is actually a fairly typical aging pattern. The hitter loses a bit of bat speed, and so he starts taking some pitches that he might have caught up with before. This tends to result in an increased walk rate, an increased strikeout rate, and decreased power, all of which have happened to Abreu this year. It's also a pattern that tends to mean the beginning of the end, particularly once pitchers re-adjust to the decreased bat speed and start throwing the hitter more strikes.

Carlos (Las Cruces, NM): Is there any reason to be optimistic about the Orioles? Obviously, in the long term, Peter Angelos will no longer own the team, one way or another. But anything sooner than that?

Nate Silver: Brandon Erbe?

ccweinmann (seattle): Where do you see Napoli settling in? Is .260/.350/.500 realistic?

Nate Silver: Probably more like .240/.350/.500, although that's a fairly semantic distinction.

Randy (Detroit): I think an overlooked feel-good story among many feel-good stories in Detroit this year is that none of the starting pitchers appear on the first page of the PAP chart. Any concerns that the young starters will wear down in the 2nd half despite Leyland's newfound restraint?

Nate Silver: Not really, and it also helps that Detroit's is a fairly efficient group of pitchers who work well with their defense.

Possessed Rebel (Detroit): Chad Billingsley. How long before he's an assest to a MLB rotation?

Nate Silver: I think he could probably be a decent #3/#4 starter right now. And I'm not sure that he's ever going to wind up being much better than a decent #3/#4 starter.

andylarsen (SLC): Which do you think is worth more for contending teams, one more regular season start from your All-Star player, or the World Series home field advantage? If its close, doesn't it make sense to actually have your players play the All-Star game? Or, you can do like Ozzie and not play your best players but rather everybody else's best players. That being said, if you are Ozzie, why not play Johan Santana for more than one inning?

Nate Silver: The home team should win a 7-game series about 51.3% of the time, assuming equally matched squads. That isn't very much advantage, particuarly considering that it only comes into play if you actually manage to reach the World Series. I don't think I'd be comfortable doing anything that might damage a pitcher's health, be he on my time or someone else's, for the sake of that small advantage.

bartleby (chicago): Jermaine Dye is having one of his best seasons. According to PECOTA, can he keep it up this year?

Nate Silver: PECOTA had a fairly pessimistic projection for Dye. Part of that is because it's still using data from his 2003 season, when he was badly injured and not really himself at the plate. Having watched Dye a bunch this season, it's clear that he's in very impressive shape and the injury problems are well beyond him. So, while PECOTA might expect some regression, I expect Dye to have a pretty darn good second half.

natjenki (Cincinnati. OH): Carlos Lee should be traded/allowed to leave as a free agent/re-signed? I see a pretty big guy soon to enter a swift decline phase him only being 30 notwithstanding........

Nate Silver: Lee's always been a much better athlete than he's given credit for. He's also been very injury-free throughout his career, which has a strong correlation with how well a player ages. Most 30-year-old outfielders are going to be overpaid when they sign a free agent, but I'd bet that Lee winds up being relatively less overpaid than most other players of his ilk.

pmiramon (Detroit): Excluding Liriano & King Felix which pitchers have the talent and mentality to become number 1 pitchers, but aren't there yet.

Nate Silver: Justin Verlander.

friejose (Boston): What would be a fair historical comp for the Santana/Liriano tandem on top of the Twins rotation?

Nate Silver: Koufax/Drysdale.

Carlos (Las Cruces, NM): Really? Nothing to look forward to in Charm City between now at 2010? I was afraid you were going to say that.

Nate Silver: Erbe should be up in 2009.

John (SF): Harden or Prior going forward?

Nate Silver: At this point, Prior's upside is probably Rich Harden like ambiguity.

TheRedsMan (Chicago): Nate is there any evidence that certain types of players tend to have their best season performance in terms of rate stastistics given FEWER AB, and not simply due to a platoon advantage? I understand his cumulative value is lower, but perhaps a team gets greater production from that "spot" by giving some players a bit of rest. This seems particularly relevant given a guy like Ryan Freel who seems to beat himself up when he plays, and is arguably more effective playing 4 days a week.

Nate Silver: I think Ron Shandler did a study that suggests that rest days are in fact helpful, particuarly for players at positions like the middle infield. But the difference is small. On the other hand, I also suspect that it's easier to maintain your focus when you're playing *nearly* every day, as opposed to being shuffled hot-and-cold into and out of the lineup.

Of course, there may be individual cases where one of these considerations trumps the other. Perhaps Freel is one of them. But that's really something that managers are going to be better equipped to determine than analysts.

John (SF): Who will be more overpaid in 2007: Barry Zito or Esteban Loaiza?

Nate Silver: I don't quite understand this grudge against Zito. He's a very good pitcher, has been so for a long time, and there are no real red flags to suggest that he won't continue to be a very good pitcher. Will he wind up being overpaid? Probably; most free agent pitchers are overpaid. But I don't think that the perception on Zito is terribly out of line with the reality.

Randy (Detroit): Any major changes in store for PECOTA for 2007? Do you think it will ever get to the point where you can't refine the system any further?

Nate Silver: My long-term gameplan with PECOTA is to do a major overhaul every second or third year. We did a big overhall before 2004, and again before this season. So this will likely be an off-year as far as changes go, particuarly since we're thrilled with the results we're getting out of the system this year.

That said, I'd like to do a bit with incorporating platoon split data, and Clay has also done a lot of work on improving the DTs, which will in turn improve the PECOTAs.

ethanfry (new England): I've asked this before and never gotten an answer...everyone says Freddy Sanchez is playing over his head, but in his Sox prospect days, numerous scouts said he would be "contending for batting titles" with his swing...does no one remember this but me? He was injured a few years and is just getting healthy, why can't this be real?

Nate Silver: Because there are very, very few players who can sustain a batting average anywhere close to .350 over the long run. As I've said, I think he can hit .300 or .310 and be a Placido Polanco type of hitter. That isn't a bad thing. But without power or walks to speak of, and without a premium defensive position, he'll have to hit about .350 to really qualify as a superstar, and he isn't likely to do that.

andylarsen (Midvale): Where do you come up with numbers like 51.3? This can't be based on previous world series, there have only been about a hundred, and not very many of those were evenly matched. And if Johan Santana is in your division, why not play him during the All-star game? You might get a win or two if he gets injured. :)

Nate Silver: The 51.3% number comes from research I did for Baseball Between the Numbers. It's basically what you get if you take the roughly 54% winning percentage that the home team wins in regular season games, and extrapolate that out over a 7-game series.

As for the Santana question, I'd argue that doing that is simply unethical, for lack of a better term.

Brent (Raleigh): Okay, we've seen your prediction for Francoeur. How about McCann? What kind of numbers would you predict for him in 5 years?

Nate Silver: PECOTA loved McCann going into this season and obviously his results this year will do nothing to change its opinion. Probably a .290/.380/.530 guy long-term, with a .310/.410/.620 season or two at his peak.

John (SF): Who wins the AL West?

Nate Silver: I'll close with some playoff predictions.

AL: Yankees, Tigers, Angels, and White Sox (w/c).
NL: Mets, Cardinals, and ... I have to pick two more teams? Let's take the Dodgers and the Astros.

Nate Silver: Thanks for the great questions, all. Let me close with a bit of a public service announcement. I try not to talk about poker too often around here. But, yesterday the House of Represenatives passed HR 4411, a bill that would effectively shut down U.S. access to online poker games. The Senate version of the bill will potentially up for consideration later in this legislative cycle. If you have a free moment and enjoy the occasional game of cards, or simply believe in limited government, contact your Senator and register your opposition to this measure. Thanks.


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